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How to Take Your Kid's Temperature

Parenting is full of obstacles that can be hard to navigate—even without a toddler yelling at your face. There’s no instruction manual, which means discerning fact from fiction and reasonable from ridiculous can be maddening. That’s where Parentalogic comes in, a digital series brought to you by NOVA and PBS Digital Studios. Subscribe to the YouTube channel to receive alerts when new episodes launch.

Premiered: Runtime: 7:49Topic: Body + BrainBody & BrainNova
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Human temperatures are not always a steady 98.6°F. Some people run warmer than others, and children are generally warmer than adults. Circadian rhythms, the weather, and even what your kids are wearing may affect a temperature reading. So if your child looks sick, is acting weird, or your thermometer is reading something higher than 100°F, it’s best to check in with your doctor.

There are many different types of thermometers, and perhaps more surprisingly, there’s fascinating physics behind these little engineering marvels. Alok and Bethany run through five of your temperature-taking options—from rectal to forehead. They show how to best use thermometers, posit what kind and which method may be ideal for your child (depending on age and the ability to sit still!), and explain the science of how thermometers work.

Your typical digital thermometer uses an electronic heat sensor to measure body temperature, Alok explains. A digital tympanic thermometer is “exhilarating” and “fascinating,” he says, and because it must accurately measure the temperature inside of an ear canal, it’s also called an ear thermometer. An alcohol thermometer is also an option, but make sure you have one designed for humans (your child is not a freezer). And lastly, there are the vintage relics of the past: mercury thermometers.

Alok and Bethany’s message? Don't take these fever-monitoring devices for granted. Not only are they crucial tools to help you or a health care provider monitor your child's wellbeing and check for fever; they're also fascinating tools.

Next time you show off your physics of thermometers knowledge, we bet you’ll get a standing ovation.

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National Corporate funding for NOVA is provided by Draper. Major funding for NOVA is provided by the David H. Koch Fund for Science, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS viewers. Additional funding is provided by the NOVA Science Trust.

Major funding for Parentalogic is provided by the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation and PBS.